Here is one more reason to bookmark Big Questions Online (despite the somewhat silly name), Alan Jacobs will be contributing a monthly column. His first piece, “Steve Jobs: Shaman and Sorcerer,” posted yesterday includes this observation:
To turn back the cultural clock, as it were, to take a set of technologies that Apple had already deployed in the iPhone and improve them, repackage and repurpose them in a way that functions with near-absolute smoothness: this is the goal of the iPad. It’s a device meant to mediate the web flawlessly, and to do so — and this is perhaps the most important thing — not primarily by altering what you see or hear but rather by giving you manual control. On the iPad you make things happen by moving your hands around, like a wizard, except you don’t need either a mouse or a wand. You don’t even need those funky gloves that Tom Cruise wore in Minority Report. You touch the Internet: you stroke it, swipe it, pinch it. And it responds precisely to your will. And only Apple can give you that.
Given my current interest in embodiment, I found Jacobs’ emphasis on “manual control” and “touch” particularly intriguing. Forgive the pun, but I think he has put his finger on an important source of the iPad’s appeal. The iPad exercises its uncanny appeal despite the fact that many believe it is not much more than a glorified iTouch with little that is new or otherwise groundbreaking. I suspect the uncanny appeal lies precisely in the way it engages the sense of touch to give the user seemingly immediate (without the mediation of keyboard, mouse, etc.) interaction with the Internet. Or to look at it another way, it moves us closer to experiencing the Internet as a kind prosthesis which blurs the boundary between body and information.